Stanley Tucci, Colin Firth, Pippa Haywood
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… empathetic power…
The sophomore feature from 2014’s Hinterland, Harry Macqueen, is an act of refreshing comfort. Starring Colin Firth and Stanley Tucci as two loving partners on a road trip across England, it is an example of gay cinema where sexuality ultimately doesn’t play into the bigger drama of the narrative. While it isn’t short on palpable emotion (with Tucci’s Tusker diagnosed with dementia two years before the audience joins in), it’s the result of organic drama that isn’t reliant on the usual tropes of hatred being inflicted on either Tusker or Firth’s Sam. It’s a romance where the two loving leads just happen to be men, informing the narrative, rather than serving as a specific source of grief for either side of the screen.
Everything is boosted by just how well Firth and Tucci play off each other [great friends in real life]. Both are as far removed from traditional swishy and flamboyant stereotypes as it is possible to get, allowing every moment that they share on-screen to exude a grounded and heart-rending warmth. Whether it’s Tusker ranting about how irritatingly British their GPS sounds, Sam holding back the quiet devastation during a birthday speech, or both of them admiring each other’s bodies (of work), it’s quite lovely seeing the phenomenally natural interplay throughout. Even when things get depressing later on, the two of them make for prime ‘relationship goals’ material.
As for the realisation of said depressing things, it plays out like a more explicitly romantic Paddleton or a couple-oriented Still Alice, where the drama comes out of Tusker’s fear that he will just keep forgetting everything, even the face of the man he loves, while Sam questions if he has the strength to stand by his partner as the memories fade away. The metaphor which gives the film its title, as shown with the stargazing opening sequence, may be a tad overused, but the framing around it gives it just enough new life to make it stick. And that framing is both figurative and literal, as Dick Pope’s cinematography does a lot to convey physical proximity and juxtapose it with emotional distance.
While well-told stories about prejudice can still make for enriching material, the fact that Supernova succeeds so readily without having to bank on gay trauma is highly commendable. By depicting an incredibly relatable coupling, amplified with great central performances, warm dialogue, and terrific cinematography from Pope, it creates a tender tragedy that, fittingly for the subject matter, insists on letting the characters keep their dignity.
Gay romances like this, where the characters involved aren’t written to be victims of how others react to their identity (as is the case for the majority of mainstream cinema, even today), are rarer than they have any right to be, and it makes the empathetic power behind this one shine all the brighter.